Charaf Tajer’s philosophy has made him a prophet in the fashion industry: “In France, people think that to be deep you have to dress in a depressing way, but Brazilian music taught me that you can be intense and fun at the same time,” he says. “I think that in fashion, as in life, you have to look for the beauty in things.”
The 36-year-old founded his brand Casablanca in London in 2018. Founded on the pillars of color, craftsmanship and the spirit of vacation, the line first found success among Los Angeles celebrities such as Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Jeff Goldblum, before receiving the prestigious LVMH award in Europe two years ago. Today, Casablanca is sold in more than 200 places around the world. “It doubles in size every six months,” says its creator. It now boasts a collaboration with Bulgari, one of the longest-running luxury brands in the world, with whom Tajer presented a capsule collection last March in Paris.
From the Italian brand’s boutique in Place Vendôme, Charaf Tajer tells the story of a project that holds the keys to a new creative and business model. He is not a typical designer. From ages 16 to 18, he worked as an intern helping to organize runway shows, but he never planned to star in them. He studied architecture and child psychology. In 2008, along with Stéphane Ashpool, he created Pigalle, an initiative whose undertakings ranged from creating clothing to constructing basketball courts. He left the project six years ago. “We’re still friends and we go out together, but I wanted to create something that I couldn’t find in stores,” explains the Frenchman.
In 2010, he founded Le Pompon, one of the most sophisticated and popular nightclubs in Paris. There, he was finally able to apply his university studies—”drunks behave like children,” he maintains—and learned to “manage people and read them quickly.” Those two qualities helped him navigate the tumultuous and sometimes childish world of fashion.
Tajer named his first solo brand Casablanca as a tribute to the city where his parents had fallen in love. They had met working side-by-side in a textile factory. “It is an Arab city in an African country with a Portuguese colonial past and a Spanish name, and all those layers represent a bit of the key to my project,” he explains. His first collection, launched in 2019, was made there in the workshop of one of his uncles. Production soon diversified from Lake Como to Ubrique, where his leather bags are made. “It’s a beautiful town, very similar to Casablanca, with super nice people,” he says.
What began as a men’s brand quickly expanded into women’s clothing. Regardless of what the label said, women bought his caftans and shirts. They became an increasingly significant segment of his clientele. “I think it has to do with the fact that the brand is a cocktail, where the codes of classic French tailoring are combined with the desire to bring a bit of femininity to men’s fashion. Our garments express a certain softness, and I think it is important because we must begin to understand that softness is not synonymous with weakness,” he says.
Tajer’s experience at Le Pompon also helped him develop another critical skill in brand building: he is great at public relations. He learned between bottles of champagne, but also from his late friend Virgil Abloh, a genius of marketing and communication. Tajer designed a capsule collection called The End for Abloh’s brand Off-White. “Our styles were completely different, but we both wanted to enter the world of luxury with capital letters. When he was appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton, it opened a door for designers of color like me. I miss him a lot,” reflects Charaf Tajer, who was also an advisor to the cult firm Supreme. In addition to Abloh, his circle of friends and acquaintances includes the cream of the crop in design and the music industry, including Rosalía. “I met her years ago, before she was a world star. I was impressed by her very special way of doing flamenco. Then she came to Paris. We were at a party together and we became friends. And it is like that with all the famous people who wear our clothes. Our relationship is based on a mutual interest in our work.”
Despite that communitarian spirit, Tajer is not a fan of collaborations, now the ruling gimmick of the fashion world. “I think there are too many collaborations on the market,” Tajer says. Still, Casablanca has released previous collaborations with New Balance, and its project with Bulgari consists of a collection of seven Serpenti bags inspired by Roman mosaics and the iconography of tennis. Despite being an independent brand that is used to doing everything differently, Casablanca’s next step is to open physical stores. “I’m prepared to put all my money into it. I am obsessed with interior design, and I think my architecture background will help me a lot.” His studies in child psychology have already proven themselves useful.